First Chapter Friday: The Last One

 

Come home to Love in a Small Town, stand-alone happily ever after romances with lots of heat and heart!

Welcome to Burton, Georgia, the farm community where the women are sassy, the men are sexy, and happily-ever-afters are a specialty of the house.

Meet Meghan and Sam . . .

Meghan

When I signed up to spend my final summer of college teaching art to underserved kids, I wanted a chance to reinvent myself, to go somewhere new and different. I never thought I’d end up in a small town in Georgia, living on a farm . . . with a man who clearly wishes I were anywhere but there.

But here I am. And even if Sam Reynolds doesn’t like it, I can’t help my attraction to him. Maybe I don’t want to help it. His deep brown eyes and slow Southern-boy drawl just do something to me. Something real and deep and maybe a little scary.

Sam

I don’t need excitement, and I sure don’t want romance. Fun is out of the question for a guy like me. I’ve had to be the steady, responsible one since my parents died, and serious is my way of life.

When this fiery red-haired art student moves into my farmhouse, I won’t deny that I’m tempted by her. But giving in to temptation could mean radical change . . . maybe more than I can handle. Meghan makes me want to believe in crazy things like forever and happy endings.

She’s the last thing I expected. I’m the last one she needs. And this is just a summer fling.

Isn’t it?

All of the Love in a Small Town romances can be read on their own. While characters pop up in each other’s stories, you can begin reading any book and feel right at home!

 

Read the First Chapter now!

Meghan

The white brick building looked a little dingy in the waning sunlight, but after the three-hour drive I’d just made, I was ready to kiss the cracked sidewalk that led to its door. I pulled my trusty blue Honda into the small parking lot and turned off the ignition. For a minute, I sat in the silent car, resting my forehead on the steering wheel. 

A loud bang on the roof made me jump, and I looked out the window at a familiar grinning face. 

Owen. Lovely. 

I opened the car door and swung my legs to the ground as Owen stepped aside, still resting his hand on the top of my car so that he stood over me. I tamped down my annoyance as his eyes swept down my body in an all too intimate way. 

“Hey, beautiful. Is this good timing, or what? I was just coming by to see if you were back yet.” 

“And here I am.” I stood up, forcing him to step back. “And yeah, it’s perfect timing because you can carry my bag.” I closed the door and looped my purse strap over my head. “It’s in the backseat.” 

Owen reached for the handle of the backseat door and pulled out my bright pink rolling suitcase. “Just the one? Weren’t you there for a week?” 

“Five days.” I clicked the lock on my key fob. “And I travel light.” 

“Yeah.” He extended the handle and started for the front of the building. “Don’t you want to know why I’m here?” 

I shrugged. “Not really.” 

In front of me, Owen’s back stiffened just enough for me to notice. He swiped back the long black hair that always seemed to hang in his eyes, and I caught the look on his face. I swallowed a sigh. He was annoying as hell, but he was still a friend, and he didn’t deserve to take the brunt of my mood. 

“Sorry. I’m tired. It was a long drive up from Florida.” I forced a smile as Owen held the door for me. “Tell me why you’re here.” 

Luckily Owen was the kind of guy who bounced back fast from a slight. “I came over to take you to the biggest party of the year. Oswald, Lloyd and Ziggy are throwing a kegger at their new place. Everyone’s going. You have an hour to get ready.” 

The wheels on my bag squeaked as he trailed it behind him across the small lobby. Out of habit, we ignored the slow-as-molasses-elevator in favor of the staircase. I gripped the banister and pulled myself up the steps. 

“I don’t know, Owen. I told you, I’m tired.”

“Aw, c’mon, Megs. You’ll feel better once we get there.”

I didn’t answer, and we climbed the rest of the way in silence broken only by our footsteps echoing against the cavernous walls. I opened the door at the top of the steps, holding it for Owen this time. My apartment was the second one to the left down the hall. 

The doorknob turned in my hand, and I shook my head. No matter how many times I warned her, Laura always forgot to lock the door. She was sitting on our hand-me-down couch, a sketch pad on her lap. Her blonde hair was piled high in a messy knot, and she bit her lip in concentration as her pencil moved across the paper. 

“Knock, knock, I’m an intruder. Thanks for leaving your door unlocked for me, lady.” I made my voice deep and tried to sound threatening. 

“Meghan!” She tossed her drawing aside and jumped to hug me. “You’re home. How was the drive?” 

“Long and monotonous, like it always is.” I lifted my purse over my head and hung it on the back of a kitchen chair. “How are things here?” 

“The same.” She glanced over my shoulder, and her left eyebrow rose. “Hey, Owen. Are you pulling bellhop duty tonight?” 

He propped my suitcase against the back of the sofa and dropped down into the fuzzy blue recliner. “Right place, right time. I’m trying to talk Megs into going to Oswald’s party tonight.” 

“Ah.” Laura met my eyes. “I heard about that. Dani and Ash are going.” That didn’t surprise me. They were neighbors and classmates of ours, and they’d never met a party they didn’t like. 

I sank down onto sofa and let my head fall against the cushion. “No offense, Owen, but I don’t want to go to some party where everyone’s going to be screaming and drunk. And there’re going to be so many people, no one’ll be able to move.” 

“But everyone’s going to be there. It’ll be epic.” He was trying to look confident and convincing, but I caught the hopeful pleading behind the bravado. It irritated the crap out of me. 

“Will there be dancing? ‘Cause that’s what I want to do. I want to dance. If I’m going to get my ass in gear to dress up and go out, it won’t be to get pawed by drunk boys and have beer spilled all over me. It’ll be to hit a decent dance floor. And I doubt that’s going to happen at Oswald’s party.” I opened one eye and fastened it on Owen. 

He shrugged. “Probably not, but hey, we could make it happen. They have a sound system, and we’ll plug in and clear a space.” He leaned forward, his blue eyes going soft and suggestive. “And I bet we could find a dark corner for some slow dancing. Some special slow dancing.” He winked. 

I thought I might gag. “God, Owen, is that all you think about? This—” I pointed at him and then at myself. “It happened once. Get over it. No repeat performances.” 

“Geez, Meghan, can’t you take a joke?” He huffed out what was supposed to pass for laughter. “I was just saying, it’s going to be a party you don’t want to miss. Everyone’s going to be talking about it for weeks.” 

Laura tucked her bare feet beneath her, curling up in the corner of the couch. “Actually, the girl who does my hair was telling me about this place that just opened in her hometown. It’s in … ummm … God, what was the name of the town?” She rolled her eyes up, thinking. “Burton. She said it’s like forty-five minutes southwest of the city, and this bar that opened has a huge dance floor and some killer local bands. The guy who owns it used to be in the music biz, so he gets all the best acts.” 

I brought my hand down onto my knee with a loud smack. “Sold! We’re going to—what was it? Burton? And we’re dancing.” 

Owen fell back in the recliner. “Seriously? You’re driving an hour to some Podunk town to hang with locals just because they have dancing?” 

“Yep.” I smiled at him. “You know me, Owen. Unpredictable.” 

He sighed, long and loud. “Well, I guess I can do that. I can’t believe I’m going to miss the biggest party of the year—” 

“Oh, no, my friend.” I shook my head. “This is a girls-only night. You go to Oswald’s and get wasted. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for you missing a fun time like that.” 

Owen frowned, and for the space of a breath, I thought I saw a flash of hurt in his eyes. But he recovered and shook his head. “Whatever.” He stood up and pulled keys from his pocket. “I’m gonna bounce. Later.” 

I watched until the door closed behind him, and then I let out a long breath. “Crap on a cracker, that boy wears me out. I’m not trying to be mean, you know? But he doesn’t seem to get subtle.” 

“Meghan Hawthorne, leaving broken hearts in her wake as usual.” Laura leaned over and bumped her shoulder against mine. “Owen’s a big boy. He’ll get over it.” She stretched her arms over her head. “So, were you serious about going out tonight? Or was that just to get Owen off your ass?” 

“Of course. I never kid around about dancing, you know that.” I shot her a look. “Why, you didn’t make up the whole thing about the bar, right?” 

Laura held up one hand. “Nope. Scout’s honor, Natalie told me.” 

“Okay. I need about an hour to get myself together.” I nudged her with my foot. “Get ready, bitch. Taking no prisoners tonight. We’re gonna dance the cowboys off the floor.” 

“Oh, joy.” She reached for her drawing pad and flipped it closed. “Bring ‘em on.” 

* * *

“I’ll be designated driver. From the look on your face when you got home, I think you need to let loose tonight.” Laura stepped out of our building’s front door, concentrating on her high-heels as she navigated the uneven sidewalk. 

I twirled car keys on my index finger. “Thanks, that sounds good. Want to take the Honda? Might be a little more dependable.” 

She tossed me a glance of mock indignation. “Are you insinuating that my car couldn’t make this trip?” 

“Not insinuating. Saying it loud. I love the Bug, but let’s face it, that car spends more time up on the mechanic’s lift than down on the road.” 

Laura sighed. “Sad but true. Okay, we’ll take your dependable car, and you can drive us out there, since I’ll be getting us home.” 

“It’s a deal.” I unlocked the Honda and wiggled into the driver’s seat. 

We maneuvered our way through the neat squares that made up so much of Savannah, out of the city and onto a two-lane country road. Laura had mapped directions on her phone. 

“So we stay on here for about twenty miles, and then we should see the place on the … it looks like the right.” 

“What’s it called again?” I set the cruise control, frowning a little at the hesitation I felt in the engine. 

“The Road Block. Where do they come up with these names?” 

“Who knows? If it’s serving up liquor and hot music, I don’t really care what it’s called. I need loud music and enough of a buzz that I don’t have to think about anything.” I caught Laura’s wince out of the corner of my eye. 

“What happened this week? In the Cove?” 

I grimaced. “Nothing happened. It’s all sunshine and roses. Joseph and Lindsay love running the Rip Tide, and Mom is thrilled about that. She and Uncle Logan are …” I lifted one shoulder. “You know. Sickeningly in love. She’s remodeling the kitchen at Uncle Logan’s house. Well, I guess it’s her house now, too.” 

“What about your house? I mean, where you lived before.” 

“Strangers are living there now. Mom rented it out.” I tried to keep my tone even, as if it didn’t matter to me, when it did matter. Very much.

“Well …” Laura’s voice was tentative. “At least she didn’t sell it. Didn’t you say she wanted to keep it in the family? That’s something.” 

“Yeah.” I rolled my eyes. “Not for me, though. It’s for Joseph and Lindsay, so one day when they have more kids, they’ll have a place to live.” I sniffed a little. I loved my brother, no question about that, and my new sister-in-law was great. But still, being at home in Crystal Cove, Florida made me feel like a fifth wheel lately. I was the only one in the family who hadn’t had a major life upheaval in the last six months, the only one still on the same boring path. It made me feel both a little self-righteous and left out all at once. 

“You know if you told your mom you wanted the house, she’d make sure you had it. Or at least she’d work it out between you and Joseph. I’m not taking sides.” She laid her hand on my arm, probably sensing that I was starting to bristle. “I’m just saying, if you look at it rationally, it makes sense. Joseph and Lindsay have the baby, and they’re married. It’s not unlikely that they’ll have another kid at some point, right? So, it would make sense for them to need a bigger place to live sooner than you.” 

“Because I’m the loser without a husband. Or a fiancé. Or even a boyfriend.” 

“That’s bullshit, Meggie.” Laura and I had been friends for almost four years, and she was one of the few people who could get away with calling me on my crap. “You don’t want that. Or at least that’s what you say all the time. You could have any guy at SCAD. I mean, Owen would probably propose if you so much as smiled at him.” 

“Owen,” I scoffed. “Yeah, because that’s who I want to spend my life with. A rich pretty-boy who’s only worried about the next party, the next good time.” 

“You’re not being fair to him. Owen’s a decent guy. He’s just not the right one for you.” 

“I’m starting to think the right one doesn’t exist.” I rubbed my thumbs over the rubber of the steering wheel. “Not that I’m looking. I don’t need permanent. I just need right now.” 

“That’s okay, because the right one is going to be the last one you’re looking for. Trust me.” 

“Whatever you say.” I knew it wasn’t any use to argue with Laura, who steadfastly believed in soul mates and true love. And why shouldn’t she? She’d been with her one-and-only since they were both fourteen years old.

“Did anything else happen while you were home? Seems like something’s bothering you.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. It just feels like … everyone has a plan. They’re all moving forward in life. You know? Mom and Logan are buying a house in Siesta Bay—that’s the next town down the coast from the Cove—and they’re going to refurbish it and open another bed and breakfast. Mom’s still partly running the restaurant, and she and Uncle Logan are planning this month-long trip to Europe in the fall. Joseph and Lindsay are both in school and taking care of the baby and doing everything Mom isn’t at the Tide. It feels like I’m the only one still in limbo.” 

“Oh, Meggie, you’re not in limbo. You’ve still got another year of college. You’re not supposed to have all the answers yet.” 

“Yeah? Well, you’re the same age as me. But you’ve got a plan, too.” 

A faint pink tinged Laura’s cheeks. “I have an idea, yes. But I don’t have all the details ironed out.” 

“Bull, Laura.” I said it with a great deal of love in my voice. “You know as soon as Brian gets home, that engagement’s going to be official, and then you’re going to be the best damned Marine wife around. I know you have it worked out to do graphic art online from wherever he’s stationed. So don’t tell me you don’t have a plan.” 

“Nothing’s definite,” she mumbled, but she glanced away, out the window, and I knew I was right on target. 

We rode in silence for a little bit longer before I spoke again.

“I made a decision about this summer.” I hadn’t intended to tell anyone yet until the details were more definite, but suddenly, I wanted to have something to share about my future. “About what I’m going to do, I mean.” 

“I thought you were going back to the Cove and working at the Tide. Teaching some private art lessons on the side.” 

“That was before everything changed. I was only going back down there because I thought Mom would need me. She doesn’t anymore, not really. Uncle Logan tried to talk me into signing on to volunteer at the art museum in Jacksonville, but I don’t feel like spending the summer walking bored tourists around, pointing out the same shit to people who couldn’t care less. Plus, if I spend the summer in the Cove, I’ll end up sleeping with Drew again, and I don’t want to go back down that road.” My high school boyfriend had never left our hometown, and it was all too easy to fall into old habits when I was there for any length of time. 

“Okay. That’s valid. What’re you going to do, then? Are you staying in Savannah?” 

“No. I don’t know where I’m going to be, exactly. I signed up to work with ArtCorps.” 

Laura frowned. “I’ve heard that name, but what is it, exactly?” 

“Like the Peace Corps, sort of, but with art. Volunteers teach in areas where all the fine arts programs have been cut or lost funding. ArtCorps assigns art students to summer programs and schools, and we get to work with underprivileged kids.” 

She raised her eyebrows. “I thought you weren’t sure you wanted to teach.” 

I nodded. “I’m not sure, but I thought, what better way to figure out if I do? I mean, this is not going to be a cushy job, I know that. But if I can do it in that kind of environment—I figure it’ll be in a city somewhere—and if I enjoy it, I can be pretty certain about teaching anywhere.” 

“Yeah, that sounds like a great idea. I’m proud of you, Meghan.” She smiled at me. “Do you have any clue where you’ll be?” 

“Not yet. I put in for the Southwest, because I’ve never gotten to spend any time in that part of the country. There’s a lot of need in the area. And being far away from everyone and everything familiar just feels right, you know?” I glanced at Laura. “I can reinvent myself for the summer. I can go without wearing makeup, dress in old jeans and stuff … and I’m going to make it a male-free summer. No dating. No hookups. Nothing. I’m going to enjoy just being me and try to figure out what I want next.” 

“Hmm.” She stared straight ahead, but I caught a hint of a smile playing about her lips.

“What?” I demanded.

“Oh, nothing. Just that most of the time, when a girl says that, she ends up meeting the one.”

I stuck out my tongue at her. “Give it up, girlfriend. The whole true love deal isn’t happening for me. Not this summer, anyway. And look here, saved by the bell. Or at least the Road Block.” I smirked at her and turned into a parking lot that was full of cars and pick-up trucks. In the middle of the huge gravel lot rose a tall building made of rough-hewn boards, with the name of the bar spelled out in uneven neon letters on the side. 

I maneuvered the Honda around random clumps of people who were either loitering outside or making their way to the door. We found a spot in the back, far from the entrance. Laura looked around us, worry on her face. 

“It’s not too bad now, but coming out in the dark, walking back here is going to be a different story. I’m not sure about this.” 

“Oh, come on, Lo.” I teased her with the nickname that was the only one she tolerated. “We’re in the middle of the country. It’s a small town. We’ll be fine.” 

She didn’t look convinced, but she followed me toward the door behind a small group of girls. 

Inside, the place was dark and loud. There were people everywhere, sitting at the bar, around small tables and standing around the dance floor, which I was glad to see was as big as advertised. 

“What now?” Laura yelled into my ear. 

“Drink, then dance!” I answered, taking her hand and leading her to where the bartenders were trying to keep up with the orders. We stood waiting for a few minutes before one of them got to us. 

“What’ll it be, ladies?” He grinned, taking us in with an expression that was appreciative without being creepy. 

“Rum and Coke for me, just plain Coke for my DD, please.” 

“Designated drivers drink free.” He pulled up the soda hose and filled a glass, set it on a napkin, and slid it across to Laura. “Captain, darlin’?” 

“Please.” I watched him splash in the rum and then fill the glass with cola. I sipped and nodded, eyes closed. “Perfect. Can we run a tab without a credit card?” 

He hesitated. “We usually only do that for locals. But …” He winked. “I think you two seem trustworthy.” 

“Here.” I fished my credit card out of my purse and handed it to him. “On second thought, just use this.” 

He waved it away. “Nah, really. It’s cool.” 

I leaned onto the bar, pressing my arms to the sides of my chest so that my boobs popped out, accented by my V-neck shirt. “I appreciate you being nice, but by the end of the night, I might not be able to think straight enough to give this to you. So, do us both a favor and just take my card.” 

He skimmed his eyes down me, raking over my deep auburn curls, tight black shirt, and short denim skirt. He shook his head. “Whatever makes you happy, darlin’. But listen, you be careful out there. Nice folks around this area, but lots of out-of-towners here tonight. Stick close to your friend here.” He nodded at Laura.

“Thanks. Will do.” I turned in my seat and took a long drink, scanning the crowd. There was a wide variety of people, with some guys in cowboy hats and others in khakis and polo shirts. Girls in skirts as short as mine hung on men or chatted with friends. Up on a small stage, a group of musicians in jeans and flannel were unpacking instruments and setting up mics. 

Across the room, a guy sitting at a table with three of his friends caught my eye. He wore jeans and a gray T-shirt with his ancient-looking boots. He was drinking a long-neck, and a slow smile spread across his face as he looked me up and down. I kept my gaze on him as I brought my glass to my lips. 

“See that guy over there?” I spoke to Laura without looking at her, maintaining the eye-lock with Mr. Sexy Cowboy. “Once the music starts, he’s going to be over here, asking me to dance. Want to lay a bet on it?”

“Nah.” She shook her head as she followed my gaze. “No way. There’s smolder in those eyes, baby. I think you caught yourself a live one. So what are you planning to do with him?’ 

I smiled, sipped my drink, and pulled my shirt a little tighter. “Anything I want.”

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Bosom Buddies Episode Seventeen

 

Dax

“So you never did tell me. How did the big date go? You know, that night I covered your shift and you were all dressed up in the monkey suit?”

One side of my mouth curled up as I regarded Marc. “Fine. It was fine. Now listen up, because I want you to be familiar with this new list of cocktails. The holidays are just around the corner, and you know we’re going to have a shit ton of tourists in the city, staying at our hotel, hitting up this bar. That’s not even counting all of the corporate parties, weddings, and other social events.” I tapped the paper on the bar. “Read it. Learn it. Live it.”

“Uh-huh.” Marc picked up the menu and let his eyes wander down the list. “Don’t worry, boss. I’ll have time to study tonight. Looks like it’ll be pretty quiet.”

“Probably,” I conceded, tossing a used bar towel into the bin under the counter. “I’ll leave you to get down to business. I’ve got a date at home with a cold beer and Sunday Night Football.”

“Doesn’t sound like as much fun as your last date, but whatever, dude. You do you.” Marc grinned. And then, as an older couple wandered over to sit down at a nearby table, he winked at me. “Time to get to work.”

I’d just clocked out and was about to head out when Sherri, one of the restaurant servers, nearly ran into me.

“Oh, Dax! You’re exactly the man I need.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Not the first time I’ve heard that, but I have a feeling you mean it in a different way.”

She shot me a look of mock reprimand. “And you’d be right. Listen, we’re in the weeds tonight. We’re down two servers and a sous chef, and we’ve got two big parties coming in.” She lifted a small slip of white paper. “Then this guest up on the twentieth floor ordered champagne and strawberries to be delivered to her suite. Since you’re going to have to prep the bubbly anyway, would you mind taking it up along with the berries?”

I hesitated. Normally, I’d have been happy to help out my co-workers. One of the things I loved about this job at the hotel was that we all pulled together when the place got busy. I didn’t mind coming in early or hanging around to make sure the job got done. But I’d been feeling mopey and grumpy lately, and I honestly just wanted to be at home right now where I could be miserable on my own.

It was stupid, and I knew it. I didn’t even really know Coral Jennings, and we’d just shared that one kiss. Why was this bothering me so much? Why had I made an ass of myself by showing up at her signing? She’d snidely accused me stalking her, of wanting a piece of her fame pie—which was an asinine thing to say, by the way—but maybe I’d had it coming by pushing when she’d made her position clear.

Sherri was still waiting for my answer, her toes tapping impatiently. I bit back my initial inclination and nodded my head.

“Sure. Did the guest ask for a specific kind of champagne?”

Sherri lifted one eyebrow. “As a matter, they requested Cristal. 2005. Two flutes, strawberries and cream.” She rolled her eyes toward the kitchen. “Come see me when you’ve got the wine ready, and I’ll have everything else set to go.”

“Okay. Will do.” I turned to go back to the special cooler where we kept our high-end liquor.

“Appreciate you, Dax!”

I sighed and focused on the job at hand.

***

I didn’t make many room service deliveries. Most people came down to the bar when they wanted a drink, and when they ordered booze with a meal, the kitchen servers popped over to the bar to retrieve what was necessary and then added it to the cart.

Consequently, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken the service elevator upstairs. I was heading up to the penthouse suite now—swanky, weren’t we—with a wheeled cart beautifully set for two lucky someones to enjoy pricey bubbles and luscious red strawberries grown in a year-round garden within a biodome outside the city.

There were times when I felt as though I was doing okay in my life, paying my rent on time, owning my car outright, and even putting away a little something for the future. But when I came face-to-face with the luxuries we offered here at the Gwynne, I realized that I was still just a good ol’ boy from North Carolina, and I was never going to understand people who lived the high life.

The elevator dinged softly, announcing my arrival on the twentieth floor. I waited until the doors slid open and then wheeled my cart over the plush carpet to the suite’s door, where I knocked.

“Room service!”

The door swooshed open as though the occupant had been waiting for me, and when I saw who was on the other side, I understood why.

“Coral?”

She stood with one hand on the doorknob, fidgeting a little as she gazed up at me. My mouth dropped when I took in the full picture.

Her small and curvy body was covered in sheer white cloth, some kind of nightgown deal, I thought. It was the kind of thing I’d seen on television or in the movies, but none of the women I’d ever dated wore stuff like this.

But damn, Coral wore it well. The neckline plunged between her full breasts, revealing her creamy skin, and through the thin material, I could make out the dark circles of her nipples. Her short hair was tousled the same way it had been the night of the premiere, but this time, her face was bare, no makeup in sight. She didn’t need it; her gray eyes were luminous as she watched my gaze consume her luscious body.

“Hello, Dax.” Coral’s voice was husky.

“I—I didn’t know it was you. I mean, who ordered the—the room service.” I eased the cart further into the room.

“No, I specifically asked the woman downstairs to send you up without letting you know it was me. She told me you were about to go off-shift, and so I thought . . .” She shrugged, the movement causing the nightgown to ripple over her skin. “Maybe this was a good way to tell you that I’m sorry.”

“Well.” I cleared my throat. “It’s, um, the most unique and promising apology I’ve ever gotten.”

Her lips twitched, and she lifted her chin. “Dax, I’m sorry about what happened at the bookstore. I don’t . . . I shouldn’t have said that to you. I never really thought you were trying to—you know. Cash in on my fame. That was stupid. And hurtful. I think I was just reacting to—um, you pushing me. Not that you were—I mean, I know you didn’t mean to. You couldn’t know—you can’t understand. But anyway, I really am so sorry.”

“All right.” My voice sounded hollow. “Apology accepted.” I swallowed, not sure what to do next. I felt as though I’d fallen into some bizarre dream.

Coral sighed and clasped her hands behind her back, unintentionally—I thought—thrusting forward her chest. “Okay. Phew.” She smiled up at me. “I’m so glad we straightened that out.” She reached for the bottle of champagne. “Let’s celebrate by pouring some of this fine champagne and sitting down over here. Can you close the door, please? I know this is the penthouse, but I’d still like some privacy.”

“Coral.” I couldn’t believe I was doing this, but I shook my head. “What is this?”

Her hand holding the champagne flute shook a little. “What do you mean? I thought that since we cleared the air, we could . . . well.” She took a deep breath. “Like I told you, I don’t do dating or anything like that, but I like you, Dax. And I’m thinking that we could have some fun.”

“So you came up here, booked this suite, ordered room service, and met me with this—” I swept my hand in her direction. “This get-up. And you think that by saying you’re sorry, I’m going to be okay with jumping into bed with you, no strings attached.”

Coral crossed her arms over her breasts, her cheeks going pink. “I thought we could talk—I thought you were interested in me.”

“I am interested in you,” I almost bellowed, then lowered my voice as I remembered that we were in the fucking penthouse. “But for more than just a casual fuck. God, Coral, I’ve lived most of my life going from woman to woman, from bed to bed. It’s fine. It’s been fine. And then the first time I meet a woman I think could be more—a woman I want to be more to me—you won’t even think about it. You won’t even give us a try.”

“I explained all of this. I told you why.” Coral’s lip jutted out stubbornly.

“And I told you that I didn’t accept that. You threw some ugly words at me, and then you came here to, uh, apologize—” I gave the word air quotes. “—which was really just an excuse to try to seduce me.”

“Dax—” Coral began, but I cut her off, shaking my head.

“You said you could never love anyone else. You said you had your one shot at love when you were a teenager, and now you won’t even consider that maybe you’d get a second chance. You won’t think about it. I think you’re a damn coward, Coral Jennings.”

Her eyes flared. “The fuck I am.”

“You heard me. A damn coward who’s too chickenshit to take a chance on love.”

“How can you say that?” Tears filled her beautiful eyes, and I almost lost it right then, fighting the desire to sweep her into my arms and kiss her, make her feel better, take back the words I knew had stung. But if I touched her, I’d be a goner, and I wasn’t going to give in. Not when I knew we had the potential for so much more.

“I’m sorry, Coral,” I said, gentling my tone. “I really am. I didn’t mean to hurt you. But you have to know my truth, too. I’m tired of meaningless fucking. I’m tired of not having someone special in my life. Sure, I want the hot sex, but I also want long talks over meals. I want walks in the woods where we find out more about each other. When it comes to you, Coral, I want the whole package.” I took one step backward. “And because for the first time in my life, I know I want more, I’m not going to settle for anything less.”

Before I could look at her again and lose my resolve, I pivoted and walked out the door, shutting it behind me.

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Eighteen is coming next Friday, December 24th!

Is there any hope for these two?

And hey, what about Sabrina and Wesley?

There is ONE more episode of Bosom Buddies.

Don’t miss it!

What about Celeste?

If you didn’t read her story in TINSEL AND TATAS,

don’t despair . . .

TITS THE SEASON

is available here now!

Bosom Buddies Episode Thirteen

If you missed Episode Nine, read it here.

If you missed Episode Ten, read it here.

If you missed Episode Eleven, read it here.

If you missed Episode Twelve, read it here.

Dax

This was . . . intense.

When Coral had talked about showing up at her movie premiere, I’d pictured us walking into a movie theatre crowded with fans and maybe a few celebrities. As the writer, Coral wouldn’t be that big a deal I’d figured.

I was wrong.

Yeah, I’d started to get a clue when her publicity person—someone I didn’t really like from the get-go, I’ll add—started talking about image and contracts and how we should act. But I still wasn’t ready for the total onslaught of flashing cameras and shouting journalists the minute Coral stepped out of the limo.

“Coral! Over here!”

“Coral! Give us a pose, love!”

We walked a few steps and then, like a total pro, Coral paused and turned to face one side of the mobbed red-carpet. Her fingers were still gripping mine, neither of us ready to let go yet, I thought.

“Coral! Who’s your date?”

She glanced up at me for the most fleeting of seconds before she answered the last question.

“This is Dax Turner. My boyfriend.”

I’d never heard those words before, not in reference to me, anyway. No woman had ever referred to me as her boyfriend. I waited for the inevitable sense of panic that I assumed would follow, even though I knew Coral was just playing a part, just doing what we’d agreed.

But the panic didn’t come, and instead of wanting to run, I found myself wanting to do something else. And being the impulsive, grab-life-by-the-balls bastard I was, I did what I wanted.

Using the hand I was holding, I tugged Coral against me. With my other hand, I tipped up her face to mine, lowered my head, and kissed the hell out of her.

***

It was for show, or at least, that was what I’d thought. But the minute her lips touched mine, everything else in the world disappeared. Sound stopped. Time ceased to exist.

She was so soft, so yielding. So warm against me. I groaned, and she arched toward me, setting my body on fire. I thrust my tongue into her mouth, needing to be closer to her any way at all. She jerked a little as if in surprise, and then she just . . .  went with it.

I angled my head and slid one hand down to her neck, my thumb moving to caress her soft skin there. I wanted to touch every inch of that skin, to explore it with my lips—

Next to me, very close to us, someone cleared her throat in a meaningful way. And I remembered where I was and what we were doing and why we were here.

Apparently Coral realized it, too, because she flattened her hand against my chest and gently pushed me away. I blinked, still in a daze, and straightened up. Swallowing hard, I ventured a glance at her face.

She was flushed, and her lips were puffy, but otherwise, she appeared to be in control and okay. She smiled at me, and although on the surface she was still Coral Jennings, famous author, I could see the confusion and surprise just under the surface. She held onto my hand still as we both began to walk again.

“Coral! That was hot!” This time it was a tall woman holding a microphone, waving at us. “Tell us more about this guy! Where did you meet? How long have you been together?”

“Guys, guys!” Sherrell was there, smiling that shark-like grin as she herded us forward. “This is something personal, and Coral isn’t going to spill her life here on the red carpet. You’ve got your pictures. Now we’re going to join the rest of these gorgeous, talented people and enjoy this incredible film that came from the mind of this wildly talented woman!” She pointed to Coral. “Thanks for coming tonight! See you later!”

We walked the rest of the way into a huge, gorgeously decorated lobby, and once again, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. Everywhere I looked, there were familiar faces—not of people I’d met in person, but faces I’d seen in magazines, on television, in some of my favorite movies. It was so wild, so unbelievable.

“Is that—is that Deena MacMillan?” I hunched over and whispered into Coral’s ear. “Holy shit, that’s really her. I used to watch her when I was a kid.”

“Yeah, that’s her.” Coral smiled faintly. “She plays the grandmother in the movie. A real grand dame, a ball-buster. She blew me away. I even got to tell her that I’d written the character with her in mind.”

“That’s so crazy.” I shook my head.

“Want to meet her?” Coral tilted her head, and I looked down at her, really pulled my attention from the star-studded crowd around us and looked at her. She still had a fairly dazed expression in her eyes, her lipstick was gone, and her hair was a little messed-up from where my fingers had accidentally pulled it from the pins.

“Um, yeah, but first . . . Coral, about what happened outside. About the kiss.”

“No.” She shook her head. “Not here. Not now. It wasn’t—I know, Dax. I know it was just for them. For the reporters, the photographers, the . . . public.”

“Coral—” I tried to figure out how to say what I needed to tell her, but she held up a hand.

“No, Dax. Not here. Right now, we’re the actors, okay? Just play the role. Pretty soon, we’ll be sitting in the theatre, and the lights will go down, and we can relax. A little.” She slid her hand into the crook of my arm. “C’mon. Let me introduce you to some stars.”

***

Coral was wrong. She was dead wrong. Because sitting next to her in the dark theatre wasn’t relaxing or easier. If anything, it was agony.

I felt the heat of her body against my side. Her scent—some magical mix of perfume and pheromones—filled my nostrils. And all I could remember was how her lips had felt against mine, how she had tasted . . .

I wanted to feel her again and couldn’t stop myself from running my finger tips down the inside of her arm until I reached her hand. Her palm twitched beneath my touch, and then after a moment, she curled her fingers around mine.

 We sat through the entirety of the movie that way, our hands linked. I managed to pay attention to the film, to lose myself in the slowly unwinding story that was painted on that big screen, the tale that had come from the imagination of the woman whose hand I was holding. It was incredible. I couldn’t even fathom what it must be like to see people she had invented walk and talk and interact.

When the lights came up again, Coral was wiping tears from her cheeks. “Sorry,” she sniffed. “It always happens when I see my movies.”

“Don’t apologize. I’d be crying, too. Holy fuck, Coral—you did that. You made that happen. I know we don’t know each other that way, but I’m, like—I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks.” She took a deep breath, her chest rising. “Okay. We’re heading out that back exit over there—so we don’t have to see the press again. That’s standard.” She carefully disentangled our hands. “You don’t have to worry. No one will see us. We don’t have to keep up the act.”

Her voice was even, as though nothing was at all unusual. As though that kiss hadn’t happened. I followed her from a distance, trailing her out the door and into the car.

“What about your friends?” I inquired as the limo pulled away into the night.

“They’re going to the after party. I want them to have a good time, enjoy themselves . . . but it’s just not my thing. So I’m heading back to the hotel.” She offered me a smile of contrition. “You know, I’m a writer, not an actor. I can pull off a show now and then, like what we did walking in tonight. But I can’t manage hours at a party where people can come up and talked to us, ask questions—I can’t keep up the pretense that long and to that extent.”

“But Coral . . .” I trailed off. “I don’t mind. I don’t want you to miss something like this. If you want to go, I won’t. Or I’ll go if it would help you.”

“No. Seriously.” She shook her head. “I never go to the parties. They’re like torture for me. I just want to go back to the hotel and crash.”

I digested this, letting it roll around in my mind. “Want some company?”

Coral jerked her head around to stare at me. “I’m sorry?”

“Coral.” I sucked in a deep breath. “That kiss. On the carpet. That kiss was—”

“Dax, please.” She sounded pained. “I might be a babbling, awkward mess, but I’m not an idiot. I know that you did this as a favor to me. I know you felt bad about knocking me over at the hotel. I know I was pathetic when I sat at your bar. And you were such an amazing sport today. That kiss will get enough buzz that my agent will be able to negotiate me a really sweet contract for my next series.”

“Oh.” I nodded slowly. “Okay. That’s great. But what if it wasn’t all an act? What if I wasn’t pretending?”

“But you were. I mean, we both were.” She patted my arm. “And here we are.” She pointed out the window, and I realized we were pulling up in front of the Gwynn. “I figured you probably left your car here, right? So this is easiest.”

“Yeah, I did.” I fiddled with my cufflinks. “Coral, I really want—I mean, I want to talk about—”

“Good night, Dax.” Coral shifted to the far corner of the back seat. “It was a wonderful evening, and I don’t know how I can ever thank you for doing this for me.”

“I don’t want to go in,” I managed to say, trying to get nearer to her. “I want to go back with you.”

“But you can’t.” She crossed her arms and closed her eyes. “Please just go, Dax. Tonight was amazing, but whether or not we like it, it was only make-believe.”

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Fourteen is coming next Friday, November 26th!

Are Dax and Coral over? Was it only pretend for both of them?

What about Celeste?

If you didn’t read her story in TINSEL AND TATAS,

don’t despair . . .

TITS THE SEASON

will be released next month as a stand-alone. 

Bosom Buddies Episode Ten

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

If you missed Episode Three, read it here.

If you missed Episode Four, read it here.

If you missed Episode Five, read it here.

If you missed Episode Six, read it here.

If you missed Episode Seven, read it here.

If you missed Episode Eight, read it here.

If you missed Episode Nine, read it here.

Coral

I couldn’t believe my life and my luck.

A long time ago, I’d realized that when I miraculously beat breast cancer at the age of nineteen, I’d used up all of my good fortune and lucky breaks. From there on out, I never complained when things didn’t go my way because I knew I had to be grateful to be alive at all.

Sure, I’d landed a sweet publishing deal at the age of twenty-one, but in my mind, that too was linked to my cancer. I’d started writing romance as a way to escape during chemo and radiation treatments, in the aftermath of surgeries and during hospital stays. My agent didn’t exactly exploit my disease to help land my first contract, but she was savvy enough to know that stories sell, and playing up the fact that I was a young cancer survivor definitely didn’t hurt.

Even my best friends came into my life because of my breast cancer diagnosis. We all met at a volunteer rally for Young Survival Coalition, and we’ve been joined at the hip ever since. I love Celeste and Sabrina. They’re the sisters I never knew I needed.

But there are a lot of other things that haven’t gone my way. For instance, I have a chronic case of the talkies, as Sabrina calls it—I go off on long and involved rambles, babbling while the people around me blink and try to find an excuse to get away. Also, when I’m with anyone outside of my closest friends and family, I’m the most awkward person on Planet Earth. Maybe in the Milky Way.

So was I surprised that this evening had gone the way it had? That instead of enjoying a promising meet-cute date with the hematologist, I was sitting at a bar, pouring out my troubles to a bartender whose name I didn’t even know?

Nope. That sounded about right.

***

He was cute, though. The bartender was, I mean. His hair was long, which was something I didn’t usually like in a guy. It was a light brown, and he had it tied back now as he moved around behind the bar. His eyes were a rich, deep chocolate, and I didn’t miss how steady they were on my face as I spoke. He wasn’t looking over my shoulder or even dipping his attention to check out my body. That was a nice change.

“All right,” he was saying now in response to my confession of social ineptitude. “So you’re this famous author, and you need a date to a movie premiere, and . . . what happened next?”

I wanted to throw myself onto the bar and bury my face in my arms, but that felt a little too far over the drama line. Instead, I shifted the ice I was holding to the back of my head and shivered as a droplet of water snaked down my neck.

“My friend Sabrina is a doctor here in Savannah. She works at the hospital in the oncology department, helping with clinical trials and treatments for breast cancer.” I bit my lip and took another deep breath. “She offered to set me up with this guy who just moved to Savannah. He’s a hematologist. She said he was super nice. I was all excited, thinking he might work out to be the perfect date. I had it pictured in my head . . . you know, he’d be all gentlemanly and kind, and I’d be comfortable enough not to be so very . . . me.” I grimaced. “And at first, it was fine. It was wonderful! He chose an amazing restaurant in this beautiful hotel, and he was at the table waiting for me. I made it to my seat without tripping or landing on my ass. All good.”

“You set the bar kind of low, you know.” Bartender Dude interrupted my flow. “If a great start to a date is getting to the table on your feet.”

“You don’t know my life,” I replied darkly. “The stories I could tell you . . .” I gave my head a small shake and winced again. It really did hurt every time I moved my head. Or my eyes. Ugh. “Anyway, then we ordered appetizers—or rather, he did—and right after the waiter walked away, Dr. Dopey made his pirate remark. He said—” I closed my eyes. “He told me that he’d looked me up and saw that I wrote pirate romance. And he kind of chuckled like—you know, isn’t that cute? So fucking patronizing.”

I felt the same fury rise in me that I’d experienced at the table. Dr. Dopey wasn’t the first person to sneer at my romances, but my tolerance for that kind of condescending shit was just about at an end.

“He sounds like his name should be Dr. Dick.” Bartender Dude scowled. “I mean, what the actual hell? You’re a published author who has fucking movies made out of your books. The asshole is probably just jealous of you.”

I managed a smile. “That’s really sweet, but he didn’t come across like he was insecure at all. He started pretending to talk like a pirate. He asked me if I wrote stories with peg-leg kink, or if the parrots could talk in my books. I tried to explain to him nicely that he was way off, that real, historical pirates weren’t anything like what we know from movies, but he just kept on going and going . . .” I gulped. “Until finally, I let go. I basically word vomited all of my research, and even when he tried to interrupt, I just ran right over him. I ended up by telling him that his attitude toward my work and my craft was insulting. I said, um . . .” I hunched my shoulders forward and dropped the melting ice pack on the bar. “I told him that he was a misogynistic literary snob, the worst kind of human to ever walk the earth.”

“Huh.” Bartender Dude smirked. “Sounds like he got a little of what he deserved.”

“But he didn’t even react. It was like what I said didn’t bother him one bit. The risotto he’d ordered arrived, and he started eating it. So then of course I felt guilty, and I tried to apologize, to explain, and he ignored me. That was when I knew I had to get out of there. So I told him my sister was broken down on a country road. And I don’t even have a sister. Not that he’d know that. Or care.”

“Why the hell did you feel guilty?” Bartender Dude looked aggravated. “You didn’t do anything wrong. He did.”

“Well, maybe,” I hedged. “But still. I was there to basically ask him to do me a favor, to go to this premiere with me. I was hoping we’d get along well enough that he’d seem as though he liked me on the big night. And then I threw that chance out the window, and now I’m back to square one.” Sighing again, I nudged the sopping mess of ice across the bar. “I’m done with this, thanks. And thanks for listening. I’m going to call my friend Sabrina and see if she can come pick me up. I can crash at her house tonight.”

“Hold on a sec.” He put one of his large hands over mine. “Let’s think about this. You really need someone to be your date on Saturday at this important event, right?” He rolled one shoulder. “I could do it.”

“What?” I stared at him stupidly. “What do you—I mean, why? You don’t know me. I don’t even know your real name, Bartender Dude.”

“Bartender Dude?” He raised one eyebrow.

“Sorry. It’s the storyteller in me. I have to call everyone something, and if I don’t know the actual name, I come up with one as a placeholder. That’s yours.”

“Oh, okay. Got it.” He stretched his arm toward me, holding out his hand. “I’m Dax Turner. Also known as Bartender Dude, I guess. And yeah, I don’t know you, but you seem like a nice person, and you need this one favor. I knocked you over. This is the least I can do to make amends.”

“You don’t have to make amends . . . Dax.” I tried his name on my tongue and found I liked it. “It was an accident, and like I said, it was just as much my fault. You don’t have to go out of your way to do this.”

“But maybe I want to.” He studied me now, his close perusal making my face go hot again. “I’m an adventurous guy. I like to try new things. And I’ve never been to a movie premiere before. Sounds like a blast. Just tell me what I need to do, and I’ll be your date.”

I blinked. “I can’t believe this. Maybe I actually hit my head harder than I thought. This could be a, like . . . a coma fantasy. I’m really laying in a hospital bed, and none of this is real.”

Dax chuckled. “If that’s what’s happening, what do you have to lose? Just say yes.”

I tried to think through all of this rationally, tried to come up with a reason I shouldn’t do this. “How do I know you’re not a serial killer, or a kidnapper, or . . .” My eyes widened. “A vampire?”

Dax leaned forward and rested his forearms—his very muscled, very sexy forearms if we’re being specific—on the bar. “You don’t, but since we’re going to be together in a public place at the premiere, I think you’ll be safe from all of those dangers.” His eyes were filled with amusement as he straightened and reached to his back pocket. “And here’s my ID, just to prove I’m who I say I am. You can always call the hotel and confirm that, too.” He slid a card over to me. “Here’s the number.”

“Hmmm, okay, well, it all seems in order.” I was so flustered, so completely out of my depth. I just needed to get back to someplace familiar and comfortable and process this whole crazy evening. “Uh, I’m staying at the Hyatt on Saturday. Checking in that day, and the hair and makeup people are coming there to make me look presentable. You should—I mean, you could come over there. The limo will pick us up at the hotel at seven and take us to the theater.”

“All right. Sounds good.” Dax nodded. “You should give me your cell number, too, and I’ll give you mine. Just in case anything changes and you need to get in touch.”

“Yeah, sure.” I reached for my phone. “I need to call Sabrina, anyway.” I recited my digits to him and then carefully added his number to my list of contacts.

“How did you put me in there?” He was smirking again, and the expression on his face shot something hot and unsettling straight to my core.

“I’m sorry?” My finger hovered over Sabrina’s name as I prepared to call her.

“I want to know if I’m in your phone as Dax or Bartender Dude.”

I was aware that my face was flaming red as the tip of my tongue darted out to run over my dry lips. It was as if he knew what I’d typed into my contact info next to his phone number.

“That’s definitely for me to know—and you to never find out.”

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Elevn is coming next Friday, November 5th!

And we’ll find out what happens between Coral and Dax . . .

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Get your copy now–this is the final week!

Get your copy of Tinsel and Tatas Today:

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An excerpt from THE CHRISTMAS KETTLE CAPER

Enjoy this sneak peek from

Mysteries of Christmas Past Anthology!

I was subjected to what amounted to the silent treatment on the train trip, though in truth Jenny Dee chattered and chortled enough for all three of us. Lilly maintained a stoic silence, staring out at the passing scenery as we chugged southwest in the direction of the state capitol in Austin.
I’d been surprised when Lilly suggested she might come along on the trip, but she’d sullenly said, “I spent two Christmases apart from ye, James. I’ll not spend another.”
And that was all it took. One tiny indirect mention of the Great War, and I felt my hand twitching again as memories of the horrors battled their way to the front of my consciousness.
As the train rounded a bend, I was at once thankful for Lilly’s deafening silence and annoyed by Jenny’s endless prattle.
“… but their daddy didn’t love her as much as her much prettier sister. And so she had no choice but to marry someone she didn’t love. Isn’t that the saddest thing you’ve heard, Daddy?”
The little flask in my coat pocket beckoned me, and I spared my wife only a moment’s glance before retrieving it to take a long swig of fine Irish whiskey. Her frown was searing, and I decided I must be a glutton for punishment because heaven help me, I liked the burn of both the liquor and of the woman born of the Emerald Isle.
“…so then the two sisters are on a train,” Jenny continued, curling her legs under her in her seat. “Um, I think heading for El Paso, maybe. But anyway, that’s when some dastardly robbers decide to hold up the train.”
“Jenny, sit properly, lass. You’ll muss your fine traveling dress.” Her brogue wasn’t nearly as strong as it had been when I’d met her, and certainly not as much as her grifter brother’s. But that was only because my wife had taken great care to work the accent out, despite my assurances that I much preferred her native drawl.
I sucked down another sip of the whiskey, then slipped it back into my coat as I watched our daughter ignore her mother, instead pushed up onto her knees and leaning towards the window to get a better view of the passing scenery.
“Oh, Daddy! Look at that. They’re longhorns! Do you know…”
“Sit down, Jenny!” I bellowed, smacking the arm of my chair. “Did you not hear your mother admonish you to sit?”
Her eyes were wide as saucers, and I knew that most children her age might burst into tears. But not my Jenny. She fixed me with a long, hard stare, then she carefully plopped down onto her backside with her legs out in front of her. I nodded my approval, then she crossed her arms over her chest and pivoted to look out of the window again.
It seemed I would get the silent treatment from both of my girls.

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